01/29/2004 12:00AM

Five serious players in Nellie Morse


Bettors hoping to hit the inaugural Magna 5, a pick five wager linking races at four Magna Entertainment tracks with a $500,000-guaranteed jackpot, may have to spread widely to make it through the first leg.

The sequence begins with the $50,000 Nellie Morse Stakes at Laurel Park, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares that lacks a clear-cut standout.

It's possible to make a case for at least five of the 10 horses in the field, starting with multiple stakes winners City Fire and Undercover, plus horse-for-the-course Fit to Kill, the revitalized old gray mare Cruise Along, and the late-running Database, a winner in four of her last five starts.

City Fire takes a distinct class drop after three consecutive failures in Grade 2 and Grade 3 stakes. She's back in against the kind of competition she dominated as a 3-year-old last season when she won four stakes at three different East Coast tracks while earning Beyer Speed Figures in the low to mid-90's.

Undercover was lightly raced last year, when she won 3 of 4 starts, including the nine-furlong Gala Lil at Laurel in March. She's eligible to improve on Saturday in only her third start since then.

Fit to Kill has finished no worse than second in 6 of 7 lifetime starts at Laurel, highlighted by three consecutive wins to close out her 2003 campaign. She gets a class check here, moving up to try stakes horses for the first time following a seven-week layoff.

Cruise Along has spent most of her racing career on turf, but responded with a surprising 4 1/2-length win and a career-high 101 Beyer when trainer Larry Murray put her on dirt for last month's Geisha Handicap. Now 6, Cruise Along regressed slightly when she finished fourth in the Grade 3 Affectionately Handicap in New York two weeks ago, but Murray is confident she's capable of another good performance.

"I usually don't run a horse after a two-week rest, but she is doing as well as she was doing going into the Geisha," Murray said. "I'm hoping there will be enough speed in the race for us to run at, and with a large field that looks possible."

An abundance of early speed should be ideal for Database, who must overcome the outside post.

"She's been closing on really slow fractions and that will not happen here since seven of the horses in the field have the potential to show speed," said Database's regular rider, Ramon Dominguez. "The amount of speed in the race is advantageous to us and hopefully she'll fire."